For Bihar: on Nitish Kumar's new term

Nitish Kumar began another term as Chief Minister of Bihar on shaky footing but retaining considerable influence among his core support base. His party, the JD(U), has 31 seats fewer than the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Even with 74 MLAs among the total NDA tally of 125 in the 243-member Assembly, the BJP had to concede the post of the CM to Mr. Kumar — proof of his indispensability. His command over social groups critical to the alliance remains unimpaired for now, but the inversion of the BJP-JD(U) hierarchy has triggered a new churn that is set to reframe politics in Bihar. The near-death experience of the NDA in the recent election might temper the BJP’s ambitions momentarily, but its plan to claim the pole position in Bihar will inevitably lead to tensions with its partner. By appointing two Deputy Chief Ministers, and displacing former DCM Sushil Modi who was seen as close to Mr. Kumar, the party has set the ball rolling for a more expansive role. The BJP has also kept a lion’s share of ministerial berths and significant portfolios. Two other allies, the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), have four members each, and either party could threaten the survival of the government. Both got a berth each.

Mr. Kumar’s measured response to his party’s showing is meaningful. While the changed reality of numbers is visible, the realignment that the BJP will seek remains unmapped. One discernible element of the BJP’s plans is to chart its own routes to Mr. Kumar’s social constituency. This, and issues in government, will require new terms of engagement between him and the BJP. Friction is inherent, but both parties can and should develop a proactive working relationship that optimally pulls in the force of both the Centre and the State governments to plan and execute a rigorous development agenda for Bihar. Repeated electoral defeats must also force the Opposition parties to relook at their mobilisation and organisational strategies. Their role in the opposition should have this larger vision. For the RJD, it is about redesigning its grassroots work to embrace a wider social constituency; for the Congress, the sole focus must be on building an organisational network that takes into account the State’s peculiar social dynamics. In the four years to the next Parliament election, there is ample time for the NDA to advance a new governance mechanism and the Opposition to develop a fresh sense of purpose. The boycott of the swearing-in by the Opposition should have been avoided. Both sides must imbibe the realisation that their responsibilities in Bihar are particularly heavy, considering the State’s daunting development challenges.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 6:21:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/for-bihar/article33110457.ece

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